With a wealth of performances under his belt, Louis Garrel’s transition into filmmaker extends beyond short-films into his second feature release A Faithful Man , continuing the creator’s trend of romantic comedies with a distinct brand of modern French film making, planting inspirational roots in the influential New Wave of cinema. 

If you’re unsure if the film you’re currently watching is French, and the language wasn’t a giveaway, you can often tell by the humour. France’s history of the cinematic comedy falls into two distinct categories; the laughably grotesque, borderline racist and ridiculous, or in the case of L’Homme Fidèle (A Faithful Man) dryer than Champagne rations post-Brexit. Unfamiliar viewers may confuse themselves determining what is a joke or tasteless drama. For filmmaker Garrel, there is no line between the two.

In the opening five minutes, we have affairs, pregnancies and death, all without a soupçon of irony, gravity or emotion – how Parisian. In another ten minutes, you’ll find yourself in a film with hasty pacing, dropping bomb-shells of narrative like bon-bon wrappers with little care of impact. Abel (Garrel), finds himself in irritable turmoil as his lover, Marianne (Laetitia Casta), takes up residence with Paul, the father of her child. Determined to keep Marianne, the chance is given after Paul passes – the two reforging a connection. In true romantic fashion, Paul’s younger sister Eve, infatuated with Abel, stalks him, takes photos and seeks to capture the perfect image she has of the man.

Garrel’s comedic styling provides an awkward balance of unresponsive acting, almost lacking in emotional delivery, yet this is the intention. It’s a choice which works remarkably well – it’s divisive, but the control and determination of the three are impressive. We maintain a sense of character, the louche traits of Casta balance the insecurities of Abel. If able to invest, A Faithful Man is a dry, witty and sharp comedy – but will sit as severely weak if you’re unable to notice the assault on naive audiences who are used to a single form of cinematic story-telling. 

Playing the role of energetic fantasist Eve, Lily-Rose Depp attempts to inject traditional emotions one expects from the melodramatic cinema. Her presence, in another setting, would be an excellent addition, but Depp sits as the sore-thumb of the four characters – an achievement given Engel’s role as the murder obsessive son of Marianne.

Some fifty years later, the movement of French New Wave cinema is far from a forgotten mode of film making. Garrel thrives in this movement, soaking in the futility of human existence, but gleefully toying with realist humour. Remnants of the low-budget filmmaking remain, the mise-en-scene may remain simplistic, but Irina Lubtchansky‘s cinematography capitalises on close-up shots, dedicating time into the performer’s faces, even as their expressions remain level. 

A Faithful Man will grasp its audience within the opening minutes, or in truth completely lose them. This is film making from a creator who has passion for their style, not bowing to preconceptions. It takes a contemporary twist on the iconic New Wave, capturing French film-making of the late ’50s, offering an exceptionally dry, if acquired humour. 

@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 30 Aug 2019